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The Magnificent Ambersons (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

The Magnificent Ambersons (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

3.9 30
by Booth Tarkington

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The Magnificent Ambersons, by Booth Tarkington, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes &


The Magnificent Ambersons, by Booth Tarkington, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.
Largely overshadowed by Orson Welles’s famous 1941 screen version, Booth Tarkington’s novel The Magnificent Ambersons was not only a best-seller when it first appeared in 1918—it also won the Pulitzer Prize.

Set in the Midwest in the early twentieth century—the dawn of the automobile age—the novel begins by introducing the richest family in town, the Ambersons. Exemplifying aristocratic excess, the Ambersons have everything money can buy—and more. But George Amberson Minafer—the spoiled grandson of the family patriarch—is unable to see that great societal changes are taking place, and that business tycoons, industrialists, and real estate developers will soon surpass him in wealth and prestige. Rather than join the new mechanical age, George prefers to remain a gentleman, believing that “being things” is superior to “doing things.” But as his town becomes a city, and the family palace is enveloped in a cloud of soot, George’s protectors disappear one by one, and the elegant, cloistered lifestyle of the Ambersons fades from view, and finally vanishes altogether.

A brilliant portrayal of the changing landscape of the American dream, The Magnificent Ambersons is a timeless classic that deserves a wider modern audience.

Nahma Sandrow has written extensively about theater and cultural history, including the books Vagabond Stars: A World History of Yiddish Theater and Surrealism: Theater, Arts, Ideas. For many years a professor at Bronx Community College of the City University of New York, she has lectured at Oxford University, Harvard University, the Smithsonian, and elsewhere.

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Read an Excerpt

From Nahma Sandrow’s Introduction to The Magnificent Ambersons

Tarkington himself intended The Magnificent Ambersons to be read not as a novel but as a political wake-up call. He set out to show how modern industrialization, specifically the triumph of the automobile over the horse and buggy, transformed America. He illustrated this history lesson through the falling fortunes of one Midwestern family and the rise of another.

The Magnificent Ambersons is also a story of romance and coming of age. A young man learns his hard life lesson and gets his girl in the end. But the book is not so simple viewed in this light, either; it is an unconventional novel, without the comforts of a lovable protagonist or a happy ending,

More complex, more personal, and darker than either of these summaries suggests, The Magnificent Ambersons is a kind of poem, an elegy to lost youth and the irretrievable past. The feelings the reader is left with are melancholy, yearning, and a sense of loss.

How one responds to a work of art is an individual matter. On first reading The Magnificent Ambersons, some are more struck by the history, and some by the romance. No reader can be fully conscious of all the layers, all the time. But they’re all there, each deepening and enhancing the effects of the others. It’s probably best to read the book through once just for pleasure, and then to go back and analyze how the author created his effects. Such an analysis can be eye-opening, and can certainly make a second reading (like the second hearing of a piece of music) a startlingly different experience from the first.

This introduction approaches The Magnificent Ambersons layer by layer: history, fiction, and then poem. A section at the end discusses writers from Indiana. See “For Further Reading” for more books by and about Booth Tarkington.


Tarkington did not set out to write a novel of character at all. What he had in mind was an exposé of social ills and ongoing historical processes. The Magnificent Ambersons was part of an ambitious trilogy called Growth (1927), in which the author describes changes he saw in America, especially his own Midwestern part of America, in the early twentieth century.

Tarkington was not an intellectual, but he read and traveled, and gave serious and informed thought to what was going on in the world. He even served a term in the Indiana state legislature—and would probably have run for reelection if not for a debilitating case of typhoid fever—and was active in various political and social causes. He wrote about his observations and political opinions, most notably in The World Does Move (1928). In fact, his first published novel, The Gentleman from Indiana, concerns a crusading journalist who tries to reform corruption in an Indiana town.

Although Tarkington wrote Growth between 1914 and 1923, the trilogy looks back on a process that had been going on for the half century since the Civil War. As he wrote, contemporary Americans were struggling to assimilate the dizzying changes that were transforming their world. Tarkington’s paternal grandfather, for example, crossed the mountains northward from Virginia to Indiana, cleared forests, and broke virgin soil with a wooden plow. His maternal grandfather was a Yankee peddler who carried goods westward by pack horse over Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Road. His favorite uncle made a fortune in the California gold rush. Like Tarkington’s father, The Magnificent Amberson’s Major Amberson served in the Civil War and lived to see airplanes and skyscrapers; George Amberson will probably live to see television and the atom bomb, as Tarkington himself did.

The immediate trigger for the trilogy was the shock Tarkington had when he come home from a stay in Europe. Downtown Indianapolis, including his own family house, was filthy with soot. The short explanation was that the region had run out of natural gas and started burning soft coal. Actually, larger forces had been at work on the town of Tarkington’s youth. In the wake of the Civil War, the nation showed the cumulative effects of the shift from an agricultural to an urban industrial nation, the settlement of the western frontier, population movements from country to city, massive immigration, and accelerating technological innovations. Businesses expanded so much—some to the point of becoming huge monopolies—that a new term, “Big Business,” took hold. Corruption, too, was plentiful. Human behavior seemed to be coming unfastened from an orderly social structure and decent values, leading to vulgarity and coarsening at all levels. This whole transformation was hastened by World War I, which began in 1914, though the United States did not enter until 1917.

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The Magnificent Ambersons 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I came across this book from its placement on the Modern Library's Top 100 list (and it barely made it on!). When I first set out to read this book, I had no idea what to expect. In fact, I was quite dreading the task. However, I was quickly proven wrong. This is one of the absolute best novels I have ever read. The book is somewhat a portrait of young love, youthful arrogance, and the moral degeneration caused by old wealth. Yet it is also an interesting portrait of the typical forgotten American Industrial city -- Gary, Indiana; Allentown, Pennsylvania; Sandusky, Ohio come to mind. In fact, it was among these cities, in their prime and on the verge of their downfall, that Booth Tarkington matured. In this way, one supposes, the novel is not the story of George Minafer and his family, but the story of Anytown, USA, falling out of date vicariously through its ancient wealth. Tarkington was prophetic in his portrait. The decline of the Amberson wealth usurped by the Automotive industry is a direct parallel to what would happen not so much later in the century with the export of American labor. Certainly this novel speaks volumes about life: not just of the wealthy, but implicitly about the working class.
Timhrk More than 1 year ago
Barnes & Noble must be commended for keeping in prints lesser known literary works. The Magnificent Andersons is a novel about transition. An upper class waspy family, and its place in society, is forever changed by the coming of the automobile and other industries and the period of massive immigration in the early 20th century. The main character, George Amberson, is a callow youth who becomes a victim not just of these forces, but of his own insistence on trying to hold on to the world he knew-of strict social structures where wealthy male protestants held power through birth not merit. This insistence results in tragedy, denying his mother the true love of her life and leaving his spinster aunt in abject poverty. Family love and loyalty may triumph-these are values George holds dear and lives up to-but they do nothing to prevent the destruction of an old way of life. In spite of some clunky sentences, Tarkington is an objective observer of events. I remember liking the Orson Wells film, the book is just as good. I even liked the old fashion over use of foreshadowing. Please visit: timothyherrick.blogspot.com
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ruthhill74 More than 1 year ago
Mostly, this is a good, old classic. I was surprised to discover it had won a Pulitzer Prize, but I realize that this was written in a different time period. It is hard to read this book from their frame of reference. Mostly, the book goes along at a nice clip. The characters are well-developed, and the dialogue is what one would expect from this time period and this privileged cast of characters. Realism is what drives this story. If you are looking for a romantic story where everyone lives happily after, I recommend you look elsewhere. I could have done without the psychic portion of the book, but at least there was no sex nor profanity. I think the author's most exquisite moment was when he wrote about the changes that occurred as times changed in the U.S. and the priveleged classes moved onward. That is probably what earned him an award. And what of the story? I would say that the story is engaging enough, but I am not particularly fond of the ending. I did appreciate the reality of the story. I suppose that explains the ending. Realistic stories often have no conclusion. I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I was not financially compensated, and all opinions are 100 percent mine.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bookworm95AO More than 1 year ago
The book is entertaining and relatable. It also paints a clear picture of society during the turn of the century. Anyone would enjoy this book!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Tarkington shows how far one young man can sink into utter misery and then rise to redemption. This book should be required reading in American high schools.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A great story of one of the most important families in history, The Ambersons.